Saturday, 26 September 2015

REUNION by Fred Uhlman

REUNION tells the story of a two boys in high school who become friends. It’s Germany in the 1930s, and one of the boys is Jewish, so we’re clear from the beginning that it’s not going to end well. This is a near perfect little novella, that had me blubbing at the dinner table at the end of its 90 pages.
The Jewish boy had never thought of his ethnicity as being any more important than his hair colour, and had rarely faced any issues with racism. The story shows how over the course of two years this changes, till he is being beaten up by his classmates, lectured in history class about ‘dark forces’ set on destroying Germany, and most painfully of all, abandoned by his friend.
His parents have been in Germany for many generations, and cannot quite believe which way things are going, particularly as his father is a veteran of WWI, a war in which 12,000 Jews died for Germany. The parents refuse to leave the country, but send their son to America. After he leaves, a Nazi comes to stand in front of the parents’ house, holding a sign that says: "Germans beware. Avoid all Jews. Whoever has anything to do with a Jew is defiled." Then:
My father put on his officer’s uniform together with his decorations, including the Iron Cross, First Class and took up his stand beside the Nazi. The Nazi got more and more embarrassed, and gradually quite a crowd collected. At first they stood in silence, but as their numbers increased there were mutterings which finally broke into aggressive jeers. But it was at the Nazi that their hostility was aimed and it was the Nazi who, before long, packed up and made off. He didn’t come back nor was he replaced. A few days later, when my mother was asleep, my father turned on the gas; and so they died. Since their death I have, as far as possible, avoided meeting Germans and haven’t opened a single German book, not even Holderlin. I have tried to forget.
Leaving aside the fact that wives should probably be consulted before murder-suicides, this is a truly terrible and wonderful story. It’s written with total simplicity, the simplicity of really great art, that looks so easy but is in fact so difficult. I highly recommend it.

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